Director of the Grand Rapids Area Library (GRAL) Will Richter gave his department head report to the Grand Rapids City Council on Tuesday, May 28. He reviewed completed projects, current developments and future plans for the library. 

The primary topic of Richter’s report was advocacy for balanced funding for the GRAL. Since February, Richter has been visiting various town hall meetings in the area to continue building awareness that, “GRAL is ‘Itasca County’s Library.’” 

This has including meeting with people at the municipal, township and county levels. 

Looking at the value of the library in 2018, Richter presented that with total operating expenses equalling $937,833, the total value of library services came to $3,256,136. These calculations were based on a spreadsheet from the Massachusetts Library Association. Furthermore, for every $1 spent toward the library, $3 in services is produced. 

“The library is a busy place with robust use from people across the county,” Richter said.

Looking at the breakdown of people who come into the physical building and leave with an item from the library, 39% of the use is from residents in the city of Grand Rapids, 26% is from the library “service area,” 25% is from the Greater Itasca County, and 10% comes from other libraries in the Arrowhead Library System. 

Richter clarified “service area” for the council. In 1966, Itasca County joined the Arrowhead Library System. Grand Rapids decided to stay an independent library. 

“They charged people outside of the city to use the library. When the library joined Arrowhead Library system in 1987, the concession to get them to join was the concept of we have this traditional service area. Those are cities and townships that traditionally supported the library essentially with a goodwill offering,” Richter said. “Those are the cities and townships that are our peripheral service area. That’s codified in our membership agreement with the Arrowhead Library System. That’s a very unique situation.”

The cities included in the “service area” include Arbo, Blackberry, Cohasset, Feeley, Harris, LaPrairie, Sago, Spang, Wabana and Warba.

The GRAL receives funding from the city of Grand Rapids, as well as Itasca County through the Arrowhead Library System which is determined by the portion of the “Library Tax” that is brought in from the previously mentioned “service area.” According to the department head report, the city of Grand Rapids brought in $702,687 and Itasca County produced $128,000 for the GRAL.

Seeing an imbalance in funding for the library, Richter will continue to advocate for more proportional funding. This summer, Richter and Executive Director of the Arrowhead Library System James Weikum, will be compiling a report to the county board to present why the county should support the GRAL. Richter noted that along with the majority of resources being used by those outside of Grand Rapids, each commissioner’s district uses the library. 

“It’s been something we have been dealing with for some time, but now we are going to go out and actively engage citizens across the county in being part of the process in sustaining some very high quality library services,” Richter said. “Outside of Duluth Public Library, we have the most visits, the most circulation of any library in the Arrowhead Region—50,000 more than comparable libraries like Hibbing, Cloquet or Virginia.”

Mayor Dale Adams asked Richter how feedback has been so far to Richter’s plan when he has visited other cities in the area. 

“They see the issue. The response depends on where you go. While I have been well received everywhere,” Richter said. “Some townships point to the mechanism of the county leveraging the library tax, and they are happy to pay whatever the county levies. Other townships, notably, Wabana and Feeley, have made goodwill offerings to the library already.”

Other business discussed included working with the city clerk to digitize the library’s records, developing a new hiring process and working to develop relationships with city departments. Additionally, the library has organized the three storage rooms, cleaned the staff workroom and established severe weather/emergency shelters. 

The GRAL Council Goal for 2018 was to, “Connect people, place, and library resources by creating new teen space and reorganizing materials to accommodate the changing needs of teens for socializing, leisure activities, and learning,” according to the department head report.

Since then, the GRAL has created a space for teenagers through funding from the Library Foundation. Richter reported the space has been well received and is used often, particularly on Wednesdays when the schools have early release. 

Looking toward summer, the GRAL is preparing for it’s summer reading program. With 996 participants last summer, Richter expects to see over 1,000 participants this year. The program is developed by GRAL staff and works to help students maintain academic levels over the summer months. 

“They really lose months of academic gains over the summer and the number one way to inoculate them against this is reading and participation in library programs,” Richter said. 

For more information about the GRAL, visit www.cityofgrandrapidsmn.com/library

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